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Wisconsinites, Get Out and Vote Today! Your Abortion Rights Are on the Ballot.

by Carmella D'Acquisto

Today, April 4, is the Wisconsin Supreme Court Election, one of the most important and consequential elections of the year. Conservative supreme court Justice Patience Roggensack has retired, leaving an opening and an opportunity. The supreme court seat will either go to liberal candidate Janet Protasiewicz or conservative candidate Daniel Kelly. With the right turnout, the 4-seats-to-three conservative stronghold can be flipped, turning the court into a liberal majority and dismantling a decade-long republication citadel. 

@asgoeswisconsin Lets do this #wisconsin ♬ original sound – As Goes Wisconsin

This is astronomically important, not just for Wisconsin, but for the entire United States. Alongside the huge topic of abortion rights, another important issue is the state of Wisconsins districting maps (read: incredibly gerrymandered) and liberal candidate Janet Protasiewicz wants to revisit those maps, and ideally start redrawing boundaries. 

Every ten years, after the census is completed, legislative and congressional district maps are updated to reflect the changing population. This was originally meant to give an exact portrait, a miniature, of the population, ensuring every person can vote for fair representation locally, statewide, and for federal representation.

However, since there were maps to manipulate, lawmakers have been manipulating them, distorting regional boundaries to ensure they, or people in their party, have the best chance of being elected, this is called gerrymandering. The current Wisconsin congressional district maps were drawn by conservatives, and if unchanged, will give them an upper hand for a decade. 

Protasiewicz has been vocal with her beliefs that the election maps are rigged in favor of conservatives, and that democracy is on the line. With new maps comes new districts that could not only change the face of Wisconsins future, but could indeed flip the US House of Representatives, where republicans only have a nine-seat lead over democrats

Theres no point in pretending these Wisconsin supreme court candidates are truly nonpartisan. This is genuinely a liberal vs conservative election, and if liberal candidate Janet Protasiewicz beats conservative candidate Daniel Kelly, the Wisconsin supreme court will be liberal for at least two years. Backed by democratic Governor Tony Evers, Wisconsins future could look bright for the first time in a long time. 

The State of Wisconsin

Wisconsin is one of 14 states that have 10-year terms for their supreme court justices. When controversial and conservative governor Scott Walker was elected in 2010, he started a conservative cascade that made Wisconsin a more unjust, more divided, and a worse place to live. He is best known for passing Act 10, which ended collective bargaining, the act of negotiating contracts for things like pay, benefits, sick leave, safety policies and more, for public-sector workers, notably teachers. Wisconsin was actually the first state to recognize collective bargaining for public workers, an ethos that was dissolved by Walkers Act 10 and anti-union sentiment. 

Other conservative laws he passed worked to suppress voters, limit abortion rights, and redistricting (in 2011, before the most recent census), to keep Wisconsin voters under his thumb. During his time in office, he appointed Rebecca Bradley and Daniel Kelly as supreme court judges. Yes, the same Daniel Kelly who is running for a seat today has already served on the states supreme court. Both judges are conservative, and have played their parts to prevent important legislation being passed, including emergency stay-at-home COVID-19 safety measures back in 2020. 

Since 2019, Wisconsin has been governed by democrat Tony Evers. However, due to the conservative stronghold in the state supreme court, he has been limited in what changes he could make for the state, especially in the wake of the overturn of Roe v Wade last summer.

Abortion Rights in Wisconsin

Since the untimely demise of Roe v. Wade, Wisconsin leaders have effectively banned abortion in the state, citing an 1849 law that took effect once federal safeguards were no longer protecting citizens. The archaic law states it is a felony to perform an abortion at any stage of pregnancy unless it’s done to save a pregnant person’s life, without exception for rape or incest.

The archaic law has left the state in a standstill. There are no more abortion providers in the state, since the near total-ban took effect. Abortion seekers have to either find the money and time to go out of state for an abortion, or follow through on their pregnancy, which could lead to life-changing and disastrous results.

However, in 2022 Wisconsin democrats filed a lawsuit that challenges the 1849 abortion ban. According to WPR, the old law will be argued at the circuit court level in May and could go to the state court within months. That means, with the right judge (Protasiewicz) in the supreme court, Wisconsin could once again safely provide healthcare procedures to abortion seekers. 

What Else is on the Ballot? 

Alongside local and regional circuit judge elections, there will also be three referendums on the ballot. The first asks Shall section 8 (2) of article I of the constitution be amended to allow a court to impose on an accused person being released before conviction conditions that are designed to protect the community from serious harm? Essentially, this is changing the language in the already-existing legislature from serious bodily harm, to serious harm which is a wider term that would result in stricter bail conditions. Voting yes means you want this amendment written into the state constitution. 

The second asks Cash bail before conviction. Shall section 8 (2) of article I of the constitution be amended to allow a court to impose cash bail on a person accused of a violent crime based on the totality of the circumstances, including the accuseds previous convictions for a violent crime, the probability that the accused will fail to appear, the need to protect the community from serious harm and prevent witness intimidation, and potential affirmative defenses? Again, this is calling for stricter bail measures, meaning the jails will only be flooded with more pretrial detainees who cannot afford bail. Voting yes means you want this amendment written into the state constitution. 

The third referendum asks Shall able-bodied, childless adults be required to look for work in order to receive taxpayer-funded welfare benefits? This is already in play, as state laws require many recipients of unemployment benefits or food stamp benefits to be actively looking for work. This referendum was touted as a Republican ploy to get more red voters to the ballot. It is just a public weigh in on existing policy. Voting yes means you agree the law should stay the same and that people without disabilities and children should have to look for work to get welfare assistance.

In Milwaukee County there is an abortion referendum question that asks Should Wisconsin Statute 940.04, which bans abortion at any stage of pregnancy without exception for rape, incest, or health of the patient, be repealed to allow legal access to abortion care? While this poll is non-binding, it opens the possibility of making Milwaukee an abortion safe-haven for the state. Voting yes means you want the strict abortion statues to be repealed. 

For more clarity about the referendums and what they could mean, check out this article from WUWM 89.7 (Milwaukees NPR station) to learn more. 

Get Out and Vote

Liberal judge Janet Protasiewicz absolutely killed it in the primary election, garnering almost more votes than all three of her competitors combined. These numbers are incredibly hopeful, and with enough people headed to the polls to elect Protasiewicz, Wisconsinites can finally start working toward a better future. 

Top photo: from the official website of Janet Protasiewicz via Facebook

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